While Martin Luther King Day has become a national day of service around the world, Tom and Lucrecia Umstead, of Sandy Springs give back practically every day.
The retirees spend time with children at Ronald McDonald House and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, with Lucrecia reading to the kids and Tom delivering stained glass crafts and paint for them to create masterpieces.
“Many times I read to kids while they're waiting to see the doctor,” Lucrecia said. “It often helps the parents to be able to think about something else for a few minutes, even though they are right there.”
“We absolutely love them,” said Juliet Veal, The Zone coordinator at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. The Zone is a fun getaway space donated by Troy Aikman and Garth Brooks.
“Every week [Tom] picks up 25-30 stained glass pieces and brings them back to The Zone. He has such a sweet smile, and he comes bouncing in here, all happy,“ Veal said.
Tom helps save the hospital and her budget thousands of dollars, she said.
A local craft manufacturer that wishes to remain anonymous donates the stained glass crafts and art supplies.
“If they have excess they give it to me,” Tom said. He also takes art supplies to the Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House and the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex.
Delivering art supplies is only part of Tom’s week. By 7 a.m. most days he has picked up donated danishes, rolls and other bread items from Costco and the neighborhood Publix supermarket, then he’s on his way to a shelter, church or a non-profit center.
“We’ve been doing it since 1998,” said Tom, 78. “We started out taking bread to Holy Spirit Catholic Church and the Community Action Center, and it’s just grown."
Tom said he stopped by Publix the day he retired from his marketing position at Blue Cross Blue Shield. During a friendly conversation with the manager he saw workers throwing away bread and an idea was born.
He also picks up donated flowers from Trader Joe’s.
After church on Sundays, the couple brings the flowers and bread items to nurses and staff at Scottish Rite and Ronald McDonald House.
“He is always thinking about us,” said Cari Olson, Ronald McDonald House manager. “I know that he does the same thing at our Emory location. He is here once or twice a week with goodies. Our families stay a good length of time and so they get to know him.”
The couple said they had to learn to not get too attached to the children. “We had one little girl, we haven’t seen in three years. And we got so attached to her...She’d light up when we went into the room,” he said.
There is a great feeling when the children are well enough to go home, the couple added.
The Umsteads say each floor at Scottish Rite reveals a different challenge for the young patients. And they see the healing process, be it children on chemotherapy, or undergoing facial operations or physical therapy. Some are around for months, others weeks.
“You can’t get too close, but you can’t help it,” said Lucrecia, 73.
Still she is volunteering in a way that she always wanted to. “When I was much younger and had children at home, I remember thinking I’d really love to read to children at the hospital,” she said. “This is just a way that we can give back, and help and support people who need it.”